Spoof's amusing, if you're not an Austen purist

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 2, 2009 

ENTER BOOK-SEAMONSTERS 2 MCT

"Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters" by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books, $12.95) combines Jane Austen with horrific sea monsters. (MCT)

HANDOUT — MCT

"Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters" is a hoot, but Jane Austen purists will shudder.

Ben H. Masters, playwright and author, has created an amusing mash-up of Jane Austin's classic novel using Jules Verne's fantasy, Robert Louis Stevenson's adventures, the eldritch horror of H.P. Lovecraft, and extensive use of a thesaurus.

Austen's original "Sense and Sensibility" covers two years in the life of the three Dashwood daughters — mostly the elder two, Elinor and Marianne — as they fall in and out of love, according to the rigid social strictures of the 19th century English Regency period. Survival dominates "Sea Monsters" where every fish lusts for human blood.

"As the party watched in horror, Miss Bellwether was wrapped inside the quavering blanket-shape of the beast and consumed, the stomach acids of the enormous jellyfish dissolved her flesh, emanating a sickening sizzling noise, followed by a sort of unholy belch. And then as quickly as it came, the creature dragged itself back into the sea, the tide withdrew; and all that was left of Miss Bellwether was a pile of corroded bones, a clump of hair and a whalebone corset."

In Austen's version, Elinor is known for "strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment." Winters changes this to "an excellent heart, a broad back and sturdy calf muscles, and she was admired by her sisters and all who knew her as a masterful driftwood whittler."

The flighty Marianne is described as "her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She spoke sighingly of the cruel creatures of the water even the one who had so savaged her father, lending them such flowery appellations as "Our Begilled Tormentors" or "the Unfathomable Ones."

Elegant Regency London has become Sub-Marine Station Beta, an undersea glass-domed metropolis constantly under attack by the aquatic world.

"Outside the Dome, enough blood was left in the (filtration assistant's) upper portion for him to remain conscious, and he watched in horror as his lower portion was chewed to death by the great beast. Marianne paused — and no one spoke. The anglerfish finished the legs and began its assault on the remaining portion of the filtration assistant. The ocean fogged with blood."

"Sea Monsters" actually gives a large part to the third daughter, Margaret, who now has sharpened teeth, a bald head and mutters Lovecraftian-style chants, "K'yaloh D'argesh F'ah! K'yaloh D'argesh F'ah!"

The heroic Colonel Brandon, afflicted by a sea-witch curse, has tentacles on his face (think Davy Jones in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies) while the duplicitous Willoughby, who attracts Marianne, is a treasure hunter — not too far from Austen's original portrayal.

If you don't take any of it too seriously — and how could you? — "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters" is an entertaining addition to the overwhelming tide of Austen-related books.

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"Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters" by Jane Austen and Ben H. Masters; Quirk Books, Philadelphia (344 pages, $12.95)

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